Stalking the wild camera lens

Hunters learn in many different ways
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It was hunting and stalking of the most dangerous kind. The consequences of a misstep would be drastic, maybe even fatal. For a very young man tackling his first life-or-death gamble, it was heady adventure.

I stood a short distance away from the tall tree. Underneath its heavily laden branches, my quarry lay still and silent in the night. Carefully, I stalked forward in slow motion, rolling each foot slowly down from the outside edge to minimize any noise. Coming so close, I couldn’t risk an inadvertent sound if I accidentally stepped on a twig or something else lying unseen in the post-midnight darkness.

Checking around for hostile natives, I made sure nothing, not even the wild dog known to roam this area, was aware of my presence. Swiveling my head slowly from side-to-side, I made sure all was quiet except for the slight sighing murmur of the night wind. I licked my parched lips one last time and slowly knelt down.

My target didn’t move, nor did I expect it to. The stalk had been perfect and I was poised to strike. There would be no turning back — and no escape if caught. Slowly, so very slowly, I reached forward and actually touched it, feeling the cool and slick outer skin under my shaking fingers. Carefully, I began peeling away the tough yet delicate covering. Finally, I saw my naked quarry exposed in the deep indigo shadows — it was a camera lens!

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Many Happy Returns

I now knew what was inside my gift, so I quickly rewrapped the package and placed it back under the Christmas tree. With an application of a cellophane tape to cover an accidentally torn corner, the hostile members of the Parent tribe would not be the wiser. Turning my back to the tree, I stopped and checked the hallway for signs of life or light, then quietly padded back to bed.
With this December Insider column, I am now publicly admitting my numerous Noel crimes: For several years, I was an inveterate gift “peeker.” While this is considered one of the lowest forms of life aside from fungus and telemarketers, especially among mothers and spouses, the statute of limitations expired 40 years ago and I feel safe in confessing my sins.

Despite the sheer awfulness of a youngster learning the secrets of his Christmas packages prior to the big day, thereby secretly robbing his parents and family of the joy of surprise, it proved to be a wonderful training regimen for all those squirrel, deer and elk stalks I’ve enjoyed in later years. It was also great fun.

At the time of these holiday transgressions, I was a mere 10 or 12 years old. It was a wonderful age, free of any semblance of wisdom, a time when I still planned to enter the fur trade as a full-time career. This was my career choice despite the protestations of my parents and regardless of the fact most mountain men had died off in the early 1800s and the frontier was already buried under a thick layer of blacktop, oil-change shops and franchise sushi restaurants.

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An Idea

My annual year-end raids first came about one night as I was lying awake, unable to sleep while I considered the possibility I might actually receive — in just a few short days — the G.I. Joe Hostage Rescue Assault Playset I had whined to Santa about several hundred times. Eventually I decided there was absolutely no reason to wait until Christmas day to see if the toy, complete with a long-range sniper rifle, or my long-awaited camera lens, were under the tree. I justified this major decision on a very rational basis by reasoning:

Firstly — the house could burn down at any moment and I might never see my toys and surprises, thereby depriving my parents of their Yuletide joy in knowing the happiness they’d brought me.

Secondly — I couldn’t wait another single minute. Patience and myself are two things that have never crossed paths in almost 60 years.

Tossing restlessly in my bed, I weighed the pros and cons of this decision. The pro argument revolved about the second factor described above. The equally compelling con argument consisted of the knowledge my parents wouldn’t likely resort to corporal — or perhaps capital — punishment if I was caught, but the disappointment on their faces would be too much to bear. Patience I did not know, but guilt was almost genetic even though I was raised in the First Congregational Methodist Church rather than attending mass.
However, pro won out. Slithering over the side of my bed as I imagined G.I. Joe — the original 12″ model with real beard stubble, thank you very much — would do when enroute to smoke-check a hostage-taking terrorist with his official “plastic carbine.”

I crept out of the bedroom and down the hallway. At that age I hadn’t hunted much aside from sparrows with my BB gun, but I used all the stalking techniques I had learned from my priceless collection of old Outdoor Life magazines. While I was previously only a textbook expert in the art, slipping down the hall provided the real-world practice I needed for later sneaking up on dangerous game.

It is a well-known fact among hunters: in terms of dangerous game, even a wounded Cape Buffalo is a creampuff compared to an enraged mother who discovers her son unwrapping gifts under the tree at 2 a.m.

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Operational Challenges

me stalks countless times over the following years with great success, or so I thought. Over the next few years, I began to notice there were clever efforts at disguising and even booby-trapping the packages to prevent tampering until Christmas morning.

The packages started to be arranged under the tree so it would be difficult to move without causing an avalanche of gifts or bringing down some of the six million fragile blown-glass bulbs adorning the tree. One year, there were garland strands hanging down and interwoven among the packages. This caused me to make up new words to a popular holiday song: “You better watch out, you better not cry, Santa’s got a tripwire, I’ll tell you why …” G.I. Joe would have approved the song, and I imagined he’d give me a hearty salute with his Kung Fu Grip.

However, after a while, working on the complex gift challenge became tedious and I began to develop a nervous tic, much like a bomb technician who has been on the job too long. It was time to quit the business altogether.

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Things Change

Now, years later as a practicing adult, there isn’t the same compulsion to preview gifts even though my wife still goes to great lengths to camouflage our presents. I’ve tried to explain my peeking days are well behind me, but she insists on hiding gifts such as sling swivels inside old refrigerator cartons filled with foam peanuts. Our yearly gift-wrap bill is enormous.

Pushing six decades, I look fondly back on those few years in the 1970s when the world was simpler, so pure and unsophisticated that even wealthy people were unable to transmit pictures of their private areas.

It still brings nostalgic joy when I recollect the countless December nights spent silently creeping through the shadowy house like a cat, reveling in the secret exhilaration of knowing the pending wonders of Christmas morning before anyone else. It was a glorious adventure and it helped instill the thrill and skills of the stalk, still evident within me to this day.

I’d like to continue this retro reminiscence of my childhood, but there is something afoot because I hear noises in the living room. It could be an early visit from St. Nicholas — or someone trying to sneak a refrigerator box and 48 lbs. of foam peanuts in from the garage.

I wonder if it has anything to do with the new .45 magazine I asked for this year?

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